Chinese leader’s daughter dies unnoticed in Queens

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Tzu Mei Chen's body sat in the hospital morgue from April 14 until last week when one of her two sons finally arrived from China to bury her.

"All that time (Chen's body) was sitting in St. John's, we were waiting for somebody to show up," Pulos said.

Chen, who died at 93, spent more than 20 years of her life in the Sherwood Village Coop in Corona where she and Pulos both lived.

Pulos said Chen, who liked to be known as Mary, lived with one of her sons for many years, until the man married a woman his mother did not approve of.

Since then, Chen lived alone and had only a few friends, some of whom belonged to a Taiwanese organization in Flushing that offered to bury her body when they learned of her death, Pulos said.

But Chen's son, Michael, finally arrived on May 19 to assume responsibility for his mother's funeral arrangements.

Pulos said Chen's son learned of his mother's death after Pulos reported it to the World Journal, a Chinese-language daily newspaper based in Flushing.

Chen's wake was held Tuesday at a funeral home in Chinatown and her funeral was scheduled for Wednesday in a Brooklyn graveyard where Pulos' family had a leftover burial plot.

"We used to kid about it, I'd say 'Mary, we're going to be in the same section, dead or alive,'" said Pulos, who is in her late 70s. "When they first called me to tell me that Mary died, I said this woman is not to be touched or burned - she has a cemetery plot."

When her son arrived from China, he and Pulos entered the apartment to sort through her belongings in preparation for the funeral.

"She always said to me, 'Sophie, when I die I want to be buried in my wedding dress,'" Pulos said. After sifting through several suitcases of ornate green and blue silk dresses, Pulos said she finally found the traditional crimson dress in which Chen was married.

"Sure enough in that suitcase was a red dress, so she got her wish," Pulos said.

Chen's father, Duxiu Chen, established the Communist Party in China and was its early leader. The dean at Beijing University, he founded two Marxist groups in 1920 prior to creating the Communist Party. After opposing the party's policy of armed insurrection, he was dismissed from the leadership and withdrew from the organization altogether. He died in 1942 in his 60s.

Pulos said she knew little of Chen's father's politics, only that he was a professor.

"She was a very learned woman," Pulos said. "She was telling me that her father married her off when she was very young, 16, and she wanted to go to school and college. She spent all her time in the library."

Pulos said she enjoyed Chen's authentic cooking and stories of her homeland.

"She was in China when the Japanese invaded," she said. "She ran away, I think it was with one of her sons and they climbed over the mountains from Shanghai to Hong Kong.

"When she reached the water, she had to swim across it. There were shark-infested waters and she tied cans around her body," Pulos said. In Hong Kong, Chen told Pulos she met an Asian woman who was married to a Texas oil businessman and through them came to America more than 20 years ago.

"I used to tell her to write her stories and I'll take them to a printing shop," Pulos said. "The stories that she told from China, she would write them. When I get a chance, I'll look through them."

Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.

Posted 7:05 pm, October 10, 2011
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